transracial parenting

When I was a very young girl, I didn’t think much about being adopted. I didn’t think about the physical differences between my white parents and I. Since my parents and almost everyone around me were white, I thought of myself in the same way – white. This became a problem when I entered kindergarten and realized that my physical appearance was different than the other kids around me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a predominantly white area, Bossier City, Louisiana. Our neighbours were mostly white, middle-class families. There were African American families, too, but I knew that I wasn’t black. There was prejudice and discrimination all around me. I was too young to understand the implications of such bias. In my family, we never talked about race, my race, my adoptive parents’ race, racism, prejudice, etc. But I perceived very early that whites were “superior” to other races. It makes me very sad that such racism existed (and still does) where I grew up and, furthermore, within my own family. I often wondered how my adoptive mother felt about me when I heard her make racist remarks toward others of a different race. It made me struggle and lose respect for my mom. I thought silently that she was a hypocrite.

At my current internship, I spend time with families who adopt children transracially through the child welfare system. These are typically white families who adopt African American, biracial, or Hispanic children. Maybe it’s me, but I am always surprised at how little time is spent discussing with adoptive parents issues of race, culture, and identity. Couples in the process of adopting seem to minimize the importance of these issues often thinking that because the child(ren) who will be placed with them permanently are so young, they have time to plan how to manage such issues. I would dare say that parents of internationally adopted children receive even less education on race, culture, and identity (less overall required training in general) than families who adopt through child welfare. Prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a 10-week training at many Arizona adoption agencies called PS-MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Arizona is a little more diverse than Louisiana, but still mostly White at 84.3% of the population.

I would hope that White adoptive parents would want their adopted black or Hispanic children to grow up with a strong sense of identity and connection to their cultural heritage. I personally believe that, in the best interest of the child, children should be placed with families of the same ethnic/racial background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, African American and Hispanic families who adopt children from the child welfare system, at least here in Arizona. I wish that we could recruit families of African American and Hispanic descent who are financially able, willing, and have the emotional/psychological capacity to adopt children through child welfare. I do believe it’s better for a child to be adopted into a family capable of providing the kind of love and care necessary regardless of race rather than languish in the system.

We would like to think that racism does not exist. We would like to believe that love is enough. Some would like to embrace the idea of being colorblind – that we are all human beings and that the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But in our society it does matter, and being colorblind does not really work. Racism is alive and well, granted that some areas of the country hold to racist views more than others. There are potential risks inherent in transracial adoption. Adoptive parents must develop cultural competence and the tools necessary to help their adopted child(ren) manage and integrate cultural differences. There are children’s books that discuss race at a level meant for very young children. Family discussions held regularly on issues of race and culture are another way to prepare children for racism and/or discrimination and to help children develop a sense of ethnic pride. Proactive is better than reactive. Studies show that adoptive parents who demonstrate a high regard  toward their adopted child’s race foster within their child(ren) a greater sense of ethnic pride.

Transracially adopted persons will explore their ethnicity sooner or later. Familial support, especially during the adolescent years, will help transracially adopted children develop a greater sense of self and ethnic identity. It may seem insignificant, but how race, culture, and identity are negotiated in a transracially adopted child’s developmental years will undoubtedly affect his or her psychological and emotional adjustment across the lifetime.

9 thoughts on “transracial parenting

  1. Pingback: Jeffster Awards: Week 18 | Deconstructing Myths

  2. Morgan

    As the mother of a son adopted from Taiwan, I appreciate your insights so much. We live in Taipei and so our son is fairly immersed in his birth culture, but even so, I am sure there are things we’re “missing.” I’ve definitely seen many parents of transracially adopted children being proactive about exposing them to their birth culture and language in recent years, but not all–not even close. Our pre-adoption classes had almost nothing to say about race and identity issues, for example. And we still get comments (even from fellow adoptive parents) like, “Why don’t you just raise him to be American?” instead of working to make the beauty of his Taiwanese heritage part of his story. Keep posting–I’ll be reading!


    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      Morgan, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read beyond two worlds. My first thought after reading your comments is how lucky you all are to live in Taipei! I wish that I could travel to Taiwan more frequently. Your son will always have those memories and tie to his birth country where ever he goes. I have friends here in AZ who also adopted internationally from both China and Korea who express the same things you have about the lack information provided by their agencies on race and identity issues. As far as “missing” things, I know that I may say and feel strongly about certain things regarding international adoption, but I think some things you just learn as you go after doing as much as you can to prepare your family and adopted child for the adjustment of adoption. It’s not always easy, but children need homes and loving, supportive families, and families who can provide that are a blessing. Best wishes to you and your family!


  3. Julie

    I have to disagree with you. For the most part in today’s IA world we are working hard at making sure we are cultivating our children’s culture and heritage. To the degree that people tend to tell us that we are overboard and not allowing our kids to just grow up without focusing so much on their differences and focusing on a foriegn life they don’t live. We are required so much education for Hauge. We talk openly with our kids about adoption….my domestic friends are not having that convo unless forced. Our daughter is 5.5 (adopted from Taiwan) has been back to Tawan, and China twice already. She is learning Mandarin(Let it Go being her most important in her repertoire to date) I surround her with a constant peer group that are adopted, bio, blended, looks alike and transracially different. Our Taiwan family meets up each summer for a family reunion to solidify bonds with foster sibs, baby house sibs and just a general friendship with kids that come from Taiwan and while all have very different stories they all have similar journeys.

    I think in the last 8 years or so IA families as well as PAP’s have prepared and implemented a plan to deal with our children’s race, culture and heritage. I talk to other IA moms and it is the primary focus these days for us!! We want our kids to grow up “racially” happy and confident. At our house we don’t pretend to be color blind….that doesn’t prepare our daughter for when she experiences racism. We are all different and yet all very much the same on the inside, but the reality is that people only get to see the outside and that comes with judgement and preconceived notions.

    I could go on and on; but I truly believe that race and culture has come to the forefront in adoption. Yes there will always be people who push it aside and don’t feel it’s important. But from who I surrounded by the thinking has changed and parents are embracing their children’s culture and doing what they can to not let the grow up “feeling white” I am so proud of where our daughter was born and I want her to proudly be a confident Taiwanese Merican with strong roots to both cultures!!

    please excuse typos…on my phone and it is hard to proofread!!


    1. Marijane Nguyen, MT-BC Post author

      I agree that adoptive parents are much more educated now than in years past. I think that how agencies help to educate adoptive families varies from agency to agency and how proactive adoptive families are in addressing race, culture, etc. varies from family to family. I’m so glad to hear that you and your family have made such strides to help your children identify with their culture of birth. Many adoptive families who contact me are also proactive. On the flip side, there are other families who aren’t as actively involved. Thanks so much for posting and taking the time to read beyond two worlds.



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